Planning Your Best Ever Firm Retreat (Part 2)

Follow These Planning Strategies and That Is What You Will Achieve

In my last blog we explored the various reasons for differing length of firm retreats and suggested that allowing more time than you consider necessary may well be advantageous. We considered the location and timing of your retreat and the importance of announcing the date in advance and making attendance compulsory. Finally, we looked at the importance of involving attendees in creating the agenda – that will achieve the sense of ownership of the meeting. Finally, I promised you that this second article would explore further key components of planning and executing a successful retreat. If you would like to read or re-read the first article – you will find this here.

Now in this second of three articles it is time to look at further aspects of planning the retreat in order to ensure its success.


If you have read Stephen Covey’s book (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) you will recognise the source of this management principle so powerfully detailed by the late author. If you have not read the book then, in advance, here are the 7 habits: –

  • Habit 1: Be proactive. … 
  • Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. … 
  • Habit 3: Put first things first. … 
  • Habit 4: Think win-win. … 
  • Habit 5: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. … 
  • Habit 6: Synergize.

Don’t most of those habits apply to better managing the accountancy business – in fact almost any business?


Let me assume for one moment that you have held a retreat before:

If it was judged not to have been as successful as had been hoped, you will probably have a clear view as to why that was. Maybe there was a disrupter? Maybe the agenda points were not time-managed? Maybe there was a failure to implement (FTI)? The venue was not as good as hoped for. Whatever reasons apply do all you can to ensure there is no chance of a retreat failing as a consequence of not having learnt the lessons of the past.

Key point: If you anticipate any retreat attendee being uncooperative or maybe even disruptive – make a point of meeting with them and doing all you can to win them over to the success of the retreat. If someone has failed to implement, ask for their full participation in implementing decisions.


You will no doubt have a range of topics to be discussed. Isn’t that always the way? How to better manage the firm in the midst of a pandemic appears on a number of firm agendas that I have seen this year. Sure, there are a number of sub agendas within this topic such as IT, data security, succession planning, firm’s management structure, working from home (one of my most covered topics (Beccy link) this year), staffing, staff development, leadership planning, the risk of the Great Resignation (note – there may well be a very positive flipside to that threat that you could turn into an opportunity).

But other regularly featuring topics may well be on your mind, such as marketing, downsizing lock up, staffing, salary increases, charge rate increases, approving budgets or financial statements, profit sharing, is the firm growing at a proper rate, updates on legal matters, client service and so on. But maybe there is a ‘higher ground’ that might encourage greater interest? OK, I accept these matters are of interest and are important, but maybe they are the agenda points that appear in your regular partner meetings.

You might think I am leading onto suggesting a meeting like you have never had before. Well, yes, maybe – but that depends on the scope of your previous meetings. I may well be preaching to the choir and I accept that. But if not would you consider maybe setting aside half of your time to take more of a bird’s eye view of your accountancy business. After all, almost 20 months into this pandemic we have an opportunity to take a deep breath and look around the business a little more circumspectly. 


That might be a possibility so long as they are speaking on a strategically relevant topic that leads onto discussion and maybe facilitating a decision. Couple of questions:

  1. Is the outside speaker being considered to provide interest or variety at the Retreat?
  2. Could the expert speaker attend a partner meeting at another time?


I am available to provide advice and the voice of experience if you would like assistance with planning to make your next retreat the best ever.

Please contact me at: and we can arrange to speak via your preferred online video link – or mine which is Zoom.


Some firms hire an external facilitator. This has certain advantages and a couple of disadvantages.

  1. One key advantage is that this allows the individual who normally leads the meeting to observe and participate
  2. Another is that a good facilitator, duly briefed should keep the meeting on track, summarise progress and key decisions and add an element of objectivity and authority – at least that is what a good facilitator should bring to the table.


  1. I have been an attendee at a three-day firm event in the US (with 400 partners) where the meeting literally exploded on the first day as a consequence of the highly unprofessional and incompetent facilitation. The facilitator was hounded out and the CEO took over the event for the following two days. I shall never forget those three days. From the moment the decision was taken to have the facilitator step down until 8am the next morning, three of us worked behind the scenes to reconstruct the meeting and agenda.
  2. Some might baulk at the cost or the necessity for an external attendee


  1. What information is going to be available that can be circulated before the retreat?
  2. What outcomes are you looking for? Maybe you could/should limit outcomes to between 3-5?
  3. What are the constraints that might hinder or impede success?
  4. What are our primary goals in the next 12 months?
    • Profitability
    • Lock up management
    • Productivity
    • New clients
    • Cross serving
    • New services
    • Technology investment, training and implementation
    • Working from home
    • Threats and opportunities
    • Leadership development
    • Sales and marketing
    • Data security
    • Recruitment
    • Partner development, new partners
    • Succession planning, including transition
    • Partnership agreement
    • Processes and systems

Maybe you could rank these (and your other points on a 5-point scale and then limit those up for discussion at the Retreat

If the above may be viewed as short term goals, what are the medium (2-4 year) goals?

  • What opportunities do you see?
  • What threats do you see?
  • What would make this retreat an outstanding success?
  • What do you not wish to discuss? 

In the third and final article we will explore a wide range of other options for your Firm Retreat together with a wide range of strategies for ensuring that your meeting is productive and effective. We will also look at how to avoid FTI – failure to implement those key decision that are the outcome of your retreat.